On my recent trip to Dubuque, I heard the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra in concert. It was an interesting experience - the small town orchestra held its own. It accommodates small town tastes for the tried and true while simultaneously trying to be as adventurous as it can get away with. This season featured a performance of Mark O'Connor's new symphony and its February concert is devoted to African American composers and Mendelssohn (the violinist is African American). The orchestra also does a fine job in trying to create interest for itself by playing off the interests of a small town in Iowa.
You have to understand that Iowa has no professional sports teams. College sports reign in this Midwestern state, whether the Iowa State University Cyclones, the University of Northern Iowa Panthers, or the University of Iowa Hawkeyes. March Madness is a real affliction in these parts, and as homage to that college basketball obsession, and as savvy business strategy, the DSO has created Classical Madness! Just like fantasy football, each individual gets a chance to pick their perfect match-up of overture, concerto and symphony, along with a wild card for good measure. 64 pieces were hand-picked by a "distinguished panel of musical experts" and it will be winnowed down to four, which will be performed in free concerts next year.
Although this sounds like provincial silliness on its surface, I think we would all like the opportunity to impact what gets played in a concert. Just the idea that you can command an ensemble of over a hundred to do your bidding is too enticing a daydream to pass up. This scheme the DSO cooked up for itself plays on that wish and combines it with the realities of Iowa living. Classical and sports finally meet. As their website puts it, can the Grieg piano concerto stand up to the perennial favorite that is Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue? Is Beethoven's Ninth more popular than Tchaikovsky's Sixth? They go head to head in the DSO's Classical Madness, and I for one, can't wait to see what makes it to the stage in 2008. My final four off their list is Wagner's Overture to The Flying Dutchman, Grieg's Piano Concerto for the first half. Sibelius's Finlandia and Dvorak's Symphony No.9 for the second half. So much diversity in one little concert. Good luck DSO patrons.